YoungLives program helps teen mothers

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Monica Taylor, 15, the mother of 1-year-old Micah, knows how tough it can be to be a teen mom.

She also knows how valuable support is for young mothers. So when her principal at Sto-Rox Middle School told her about YoungLives Three Rivers, she registered with the nonprofit, which assists teen moms.

"They helped me with everything. They help with clothes, diapers, giving me information," she said. "They even help me with housing."

Monica, who lives with her son in McKees Rocks, is among 30 young women currently involved with YoungLives' programming.

The agency is celebrating its fifth anniversary and hosting a fundraising fashion show, "YL3Runway Benefit: Legacies, Impacting Generations," from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Pittsburgh Marriott North, 100 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry.

YoungLives is part of a national organization, Young Life, which reaches out to middle and high school students to introduce them to Christianity. YoungLives' initiative is to serve teen mothers and teen fathers.

Judy Pytlik, director of the local program, remembers the date the program started.

"January 20, 2008. That date is etched in my mind," she said.

Mrs. Pytlik, who has three grown children and five grandchildren, heard about the program on the Christian radio station WORD-FM. She and her husband, Greg, had been foster parents to a young woman, and when she left, her absence left a hole in Mrs. Pytlik's life. So, when she was asked to help lead the YoungLives program, she jumped at the chance.

"I was a physical therapist assistant, so I wasn't even in that kind of work, but I felt that was where I was supposed to be," she said.

Mrs. Pytlik balanced her two jobs for a while, working part time at YoungLives as a volunteer. As her part-time role grew, she started working part time as a physical therapist assistant, and then assumed a full-time, paid position with YoungLives in 2009. She remains the only paid staff member at the organization.

YoungLives provides programming and support for teen moms in the Pittsburgh region as well as in Beaver County and the East Hills. According to Mrs. Pytlik, the young mothers in the Pittsburgh area are from McKees Rocks, Coraopolis, Moon, the Hill District, Hopewell, Crafton, Sewickley, Ingomar, Brookline, Shaler, Millvale and Brighton Heights.

"We help the girls find the resources they need, but we don't do it for them. They have to make the calls and they have to reach out -- we want to help them help themselves," Mrs. Pytlik said.

The organization operates on a very small budget. It does not receive any financial support from the national organization and it raises money through fundraisers such as the fashion show and grants.

Mrs. Pytlik works out of her Ross home and most of the programming is held at her church, Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township.

Mrs. Pytlik said YoungLives hosts programming Friday evenings at the church, serves dinners and provides childcare for the young moms. Volunteers, including her husband, provide transportation.

The programming includes educational presentations but also fun events so the girls can "just have fun and be teens," Mrs. Pytlik said. They also have a few minutes of prayer, she said.

The teen dads are welcome, and Mr. Pytlik meets with the young men, providing similar programming for them.

For the young women, Mrs. Pytlik and the volunteers are "lifesavers," said Billie Hankle, 18, of McKees Rocks, who is pregnant.

"They are always there for you. If you just need someone to talk to or if you need help with supplies, whatever."

Billie said she will stay in the program until she is 21 -- the cutoff age -- so that she not only can benefit from it but also support other young moms.

"They have helped me so much -- I want to help others, too," she said.

Kelly Ross is one of the volunteers organizing the fashion show.

The Franklin Park mother of two said she decided to volunteer with YoungLives because, as she put it, she felt she needed to "make myself congruent with myself."

She explained that she is anti-abortion and she "would applaud young women keeping their babies, but then I found myself judging them when I would see them at the store or on the street."

When she volunteered with the organization, they learned that she had experience as a fundraiser for a nonprofit and asked her to help with fundraising.

This is the first fashion show for YoungLives, and Mrs. Ross is a bit nervous.

"We have celebrity guests and such wonderful support from local stores and vendors, but I am not setting a goal," she said with a laugh.

Tickets are $35, which includes light hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar. To buy tickets online: Tickets also are available at the door.

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Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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